-by W. Goodridge
amilies looking to go camping in France can discover the magical region of Brittany and its pretty coastal towns and villages where to spend a magical vacation.
Quiberon and Belle-Ile
Quiberon is one of Brittany’s most popular holiday resorts, at the tip of a long, slim peninsula, surrounded by sublime sandy beaches. It makes the perfect base for exploring Belle Ile, offshore, and inland to Carnac and Auray. But on a long summer day it is the sands that have most pulling power, the one access road can be clogged with traffic as day trippers from surrounding towns join longer stay visitors in the rush for the beach. Quiberon has long made a living from the sea, traditionally sardine fishing and processing. Today, the commercial port and ferry services are in the main town, while the pleasure port, Port Haliguen, is to the northeast.
The island’s capital and main port, Le Palais, lies on the more sheltered eastern side, at the mouth of a small river. Sauzon, the second port, is smaller, with painted cottages and a harbour lined with fishing nets. Bicycle tracks make the island perfect to explore on two wheels. The landscape is dotted with prehistoric menhirs (standing stones), including two in the northwest known as Jean and Jeanne, lovers turned to stone as punishment for a pre-wedding night of passion. Don’t miss the view of Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton, a series of sharp rocks off the western cliffs, which was painted by Monet.
This inland Breton town has a fantastic medieval castle, whose rounded turrets make a memorable sight mirrored in the river Oust. The castle dates from the 14th century, with the Renaissance screen added between 1490 and 1510. It was restored in the 19th century. A sober wall of stone overlooks the river, with three circular towers topped by witch’s-hat turrets. Once you enter the courtyard, the inland facade offers a riot of Renaissance detail on its 10 upper gables and exquisite carving over each of its door and window openings on the lower floor. A magnificent carved frieze links the two elements at roof level. Inside, there is 17th and 18th century style decoration.
A maze of cobbled alleyways links the courtyard to Josselin’s main town square, where you’ll find the late 15th century Notre-Dame-du-Roncier (Our Lady of the Brambles). Don’t miss the best views of the castle from across the river in the Quartier Sainte-Croix.
Mont St-Michel is more than a church on a rock in a bay. The silhouette of the walled Abbey rising from the mists was the very symbol of France and French ingenuity long before the Eiffel Tower was even a stack of rivets and girders. This fortified religious community, separated from the mainland by quicksands and tides, is a surreal sight, especially through the early morning sea mists. Reached via a causeway, just north of Pontorson, the Mount was originally an island in the sea between Normandy and Brittany.
It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although, in peak season, the Mount is one of the most crowded visitor attractions in the country, it is well worth making the effort to cross the causeway from the mainland. Don’t venture onto the mudflats unless you are part of a guided walk, as tides can sweep in quickly. Views of the protected Baie de Mont St-Michel from the very top of the Abbey are stunning.
The Mount has drawn pilgrims since 708, when St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, built a modest chapel on the 79m granite Mont Tombe, after seeing a vision of the Archangel Michael. Benedictine monks settled here and a village soon formed around them. A Romanesque church was constructed on the site in the 11th century, and work continued on other buildings over the following years. The Mount was fortified against the English during the Hundred Years War and managed to resist attack. Work continued on the Abbey from the 15th to the 17th centuries, and the site spent time as a prison after the Revolution.
A monastic community returned to the site in 1969, and monks and nuns continue to provide a spiritual anchor within whatmight otherwise be merely a hub of tourism and history. Although 3.5 million visitors come to Mont St-Michel each year, the resident population is just 35.
When the main street is packed with people, climb the steps to the less crowded ramparts to look down on the village and across the sea. Rather than pay the admission charge to visit the Abbey, you could time your visit to coincide with the midday mass, when tickets are free. You can take your time walking through the monument after the service. Son et lumiere shows are staged at the Mount in summer. Regardless of where you go camping in Brittany, it would be a shame if your stay did not take in the magnificent Mont St Michel.
Morlaix sits in a ravine at the head of a large estuary, in the shadow of a towering viaduct. It was once Brittany’s third city, prospering on fishing, shipbuilding, linen, paper and a little piracy. This made it a target for reprisals. The worst came in 1522, when the English attacked in retaliation for the French ransacking Bristol. Morlaix’s citizens took their revenge when they found the English sleeping off hangovers after helping themselves to the town’s wine! You can visit the Maison a Pondalez, at 9 Grand Rue, and the Maison de la Reine Anne, in the rue du Mur, where Anne of Brittany stayed in 1505. Don’t miss the Leon furniture and Breton paintings at the Musee Jacobin. The building is part of a 13th-century Dominican and Jacobin monastery, in place des Jacobins.
Le Conquet is perhaps the prettiest of Brittany’s many attractive coastal villages, with its whitewashed cottages hugging the hillside and its lively fishing harbour. There are beautiful beaches nearby and you can take a ferry to the islands of Ouessant. The small square above the port is flanked by fishermen’s stone cottages and is full of the trappings of fishing in lobster pots, baskets and nets. Casting a protective eye over the port entrance is La Maison des Seigneurs, part of a larger fortress dating from the 15th century and now a private home. The tiny Dom Michel chapel, at the top of rue Dom Michel le Noblezt, makes an interesting contrast to Brittany’s larger, more ornate, churches.
You can take trips out by glass-bottomed boat. The town itself has very little in the way of sandy beaches but it is only a 2km walk from the harbour, via a footbridge, to the Plage des Blancs-Sablons, one of the finest beaches in Brittany.
Article Written By: wgoodridge
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